Beer Lesson: Porters and Stouts

As the craft beer craze continues to sweep the nation, more and more people are deciding to try their hand at creating their own perfect brew. In Craft Beer for the Homebrewer, beer writer and certified cicerone (think sommelier for beer) Michael Agnew merges the passions of consumption and creation into one definitive guidebook, designed for the craft beer lover who also happens to be a homebrew enthusiast. Below is an excerpt from the book, background about porters and stouts–perfect styles of deep, dark beer for cold, grey winter days.

Source – Craft Beer for the Homebrewer

When most people think of stouts they picture that pint of Guinness—the creamy off-white foam cascading into the impenetrable blackness of the underlying beer. For many that dusky hue equates to heavy. How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh, that’s thick,” when pouring a stout or porter?

It’s time to put that myth to rest. Black is neither a flavor nor a texture. Color tells you surprisingly little about how a beer might ultimately taste. The many sub-styles of Porter and stout run the gamut from dry and light to heavy and sweet. On the lighter end is the sessionable Irish stout. That so-called “meal-in-a-glass” Guinness, for example, is under 4 percent alcohol and has only a few more calories than a typical American light lager. Intense rostiness and a creamy texture from nitrogen gas give the impression of a much fuller-bodied beer. Moving up the ladder are robust and Baltic porters as well as milk, oatmeal, and foreign “extra stouts.” All feature rich chocolate and coffee flavors with varying levels of sweetness and roast. But the style reaches its pinnacle with the luscious thickness of Russian imperial stout

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Source – Craft Beer for the Homebrewer

What’s the difference between a porter and a stout? That’s hard to say. The line is blurry, and the same adjectives are used to describe both. I’ve come to the conclusion that a beer is a porter or a stout mostly because the brewer says it is. I believe that history bears this out.

Long ago in England, “stout” simply meant strong beer. There were pale stouts and brown stouts. Porter referred to a type of aged brown beer that was popular with the ticket porters in London. Porter came in varying strengths, with the strongest being called “stout porter.”

From the mid-1700s to the late 1800s porter enjoyed immense popularity, and its production changed the way beer was made. Porter was the first mass-produced beer and one of the first mass-produced products of the industrial revolution. London’s biggest porter brewers were cranking out beer in volumes that exceed most of today’s regional breweries. Porter brewers initiated the practice of bulk-aging beers, keeping it in vats holding thousands of gallons. They were the first to use the thermometer and hydrometer to better control the brewing process.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the popularity of porter began to fade as tastes moved to pale ales. As alcohol levels in beer declined generally, the term “stout” became more singularly associated with strong porters. By the early twentieth century the style had nearly disappeared. Porter was so out of favor that many brewers didn’t want their product associated with it. They simply called their black beers stout. It wasn’t until the 1980s that American and English craft brewers began to revive the once-proud style.

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